Breakfast only bolstered the favorable first impressions Jars had of Nikki. She was smart as well as attractive and their conversation had touched on a wide array of topics. If she didn’t know something she didn’t pretend she did. Nor did she inhabit a narrow world of her own constrained making. The few subjects they touched upon in which Nikki professed ignorance were no greater in number than his own. Her agile mind asked the right sort of questions and her boundless good humor, though quirky, made him laugh out loud, a rarity in the fast-paced life he’d been living putting him completely at ease.
Realizing that nearly two hours had passed and they were the sole inhabitants left in the dining room, Jars reluctantly mumbled something to the effect he had better get going.
“That’s right. You have a son to meet.” Nikki’s words acknowledged the commitment Jars had shared with her. She gave him an encouraging smile.
“We’re having dinner together.” Although spoken casually, Jars was surprised at the unexpected appearance of emotion somewhere in his gut. “Reservations at eight.”
“Is it a long drive?”
“Less than three hours.”
Nikki sensed that the thought of meeting his estranged son wasn’t an altogether comfortable one for him. “Would you like to join me for a picnic? Glimmerglass Park is just up the road at the opposite end of the lake.” The invitation slipped out of her mouth before she had time to think. But it made sense. It was obvious that if Jars left now he would have several hours on his hands at the other end. And she was a good listener. Maybe it would help if he talked about whatever had come between the two of them. A picnic would afford Jars a no-pressure opportunity to work through his feelings. At any rate, it couldn’t hurt.
Jars found his plan to leave after breakfast quickly taking a back seat to what he considered a more attractive option. He hadn’t been on a picnic in more years than he could count and Nikki’s offer of an outing came as an irresistible surprise. But his first impulse was to decline, thanking her for the gracious invitation and expressing a desire to not interrupt her vacation plans. True, his dinner engagement wasn’t until later in the evening and the drive north would take less than three hours leaving him with more time on his hands than he wanted. Nikki deftly dismissed his concerns by reminding him that she had already spent the previous two days touring the Hall of Fame and such a beautiful day should be put to better use than spending it indoors. Besides, he looked like he could use a picnic, leaving Jars wondering what there was about him that gave him away.
In the end, Nikki had made it easy for him to say yes, and now, as he slid a CD into the Land Rover’s sound system, watching as the disc glided silently into the slotted mouth of the player, he was glad he had. The afternoon had been wonderful, reminiscent of sensations he had once known but had either given up on or abandoned in sacrifice to the torrid schedule his work at Synapzius demanded.
Preparations had taken them first into the heart of the historic village of Cooperstown where they had gone into one of the many eateries on Main Street. They found one boasting sandwiches aptly named for a number of famous ballplayers. Lest she be seen as disloyal, Nikki had suggested they split a Billy Martin, a wedge featuring a mountainous helping of Genoa salami and spicy capicola slathered with horseradish mayonnaise and topped with pepper jack cheese, lettuce and tomato. They’d added a bag of chips and two bottles of unsweetened iced tea before heading up the eastern side of Otsego Lake to where Glimmerglass Park lie situated on Hyde Bay.
The afternoon had been a delightful mixture of lighthearted laughter, simple but delicious food and leisurely conversation that meandered gently across topical landscapes Jars had seldom, and sometimes never, traversed. They had taken walks along the shore and on trails snaking through marshlands and woods, never uneasy with the occasional times of quietness that came over them, content to let the natural flow of the day have its way. It had been late afternoon when Jars had again thought of what lay ahead come evening.
Orange signs on the side of the road warning of road construction ahead interrupted his thoughts and he eased off the Land Rover’s accelerator in anticipation. Rounding a curve, he found himself joining a half-dozen cars queued up in front of a man wearing a green florescent vest and holding a pole with a stop sign mounted at the top. The man’s hair was bleached nearly blond and his skin leathery from the sun’s constant assault. He stood holding an unlit cigarette, his grip on the pole relaxed as if he were out for a smoke on a street corner, leaning against a streetlight yet forgetful of exactly why he was there. His eyes had the faraway look of someone whose body was present but whose mind was elsewhere.
“Are you okay?” Nikki’s voice, floating through Jars’ memory was soft, gentle, tugging him back into his earlier reverie. As his departure from Glimmerglass had drawn near she had sensed a change coming over him. He replayed the last of their conversation.
“I was just thinking about my son, Kyle, and what the evening might have in store for us.”
“I remember you saying you hadn’t seen him in a while.”
He appreciated her sensitivity. Instead of probing, Nikki had been content to simply acknowledge his change of mood. If Jars wanted to say more she would leave it up to him. There had been no pressure, no need to explain further. Looking into her chestnut brown eyes, Jars had seen a wellspring of compassion.
The man in the florescent vest deftly spun the shaft in his hands, the sign atop the pole giving permission to the growing line of vehicles to proceed with caution. Jars nudged the Land Rover forward, content with the unhurried pace of the newly formed pack. He would be meeting Kyle at a rustic lodge in the small hamlet of Long Lake. He had picked the location out of a desire to meet somewhere discreet and private where there was little chance of running into someone he knew, or who might recognize him.
As he had shared with Nikki, Jars had last seen Kyle on his eighteenth birthday when he had presented him with the keys to a Mustang Cobra. The silver Shelby GT500KR was a 540 horsepower supercharged behemoth. A $130,000 guilt offering from an absentee father who had abandoned him to the care of his mother. Kyle had flashed a sort of half-smile that was as much smirk as smile, turning his back on his father to open the Cobra’s door and drop into the driver’s seat. The engine roared to life and 510 foot-pounds of torque had left Jars breathing air heavily mixed with exhaust fumes and burning rubber. Intended to bring father and son closer, the limited edition car became an instrument capable of widening the distance between them at incredible speed.
Kyle was twenty-one now and Jars wondered what changes three years had wrought in the boy. All he knew of his son was that he was attending Cornell. The tuition bills he received twice a year told him that much. What his grades were and what course of study Kyle was pursuing was a mystery.
Jars still didn’t know what he would say. For all he knew, Kyle might not even show up. Frankly, Kyle’s acceptance of his invitation to meet with him had come as a surprise. He supposed he should have made the arrangements before implanting the device in his chest. After all, his being alive today and making his way to Long Lake wasn’t a given, even if the odds were in his favor. He couldn’t explain it but he had felt that, somehow, his thoughts and feelings towards his son would be different once the deadly experiment was underway, that knowing his seeing Kyle might never happen again would kindle long dormant paternal sentiments.
His intuition had been spot on. Kyle was no longer an abstract thought, a phantom who occasionally managed to broach the surface of Jars’ consciousness. The young man was his son and if possible, Jars wanted to make a meaningful connection while there was still time.
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Katie rummaged around in the pocket of her jeans, her fingers eventually finding the key to her apartment. She’d been away for two months this time and found her emotions upon returning home the same jumbled concoction as always. She slid the heavy pack off her back, content to let it lie on the floor just inside the door. Bone tired, all she wanted was her bed. Sleep was her friend, giving her mind a break from the turmoil brought about by a world gone berserk.
She plopped down onto the sofa. Mail lay piled in front of her on the coffee table neatly organized into neat stacks according to content complements of her best friend Beth, whose own apartment was on the floor just below. The two were polar opposites: Beth’s disciplined, structured life moving along a course planned out by her parents since the day they brought their daughter home from the hospital. Whereas Katie seldom knew what she would be doing five days from now, Beth’s life was planned out in five year increments as if she were a business venture watched over by anxious investors. Her parents nearly suffocated her with their constant involvement in practically every aspect of her life. Perhaps that was what had attracted her to Katie, whose life reminded Beth of a fireworks display. You never knew what was going to happen next.
Katie’s recent trip was a prime example. Troubled by the underlying theme of poverty after watching the movie, Slum Dog Millionaire, Katie had signed on with a small group traveling to India to help care for the poor in the sprawling metropolis of Calcutta. They had been under the supervision of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, continuing the work the remarkable Albanian woman had begun in the nineteen-forties. The work made her feel useful, giving her life some measure of purpose. She was a tireless worker, one member of the team even going so far as to say that she seemed driven, as if pursuing some insatiable appetite to rescue all humanity. Katie wished it were that simple. Sure, her heart went out to the endless number of impoverished people in the swirl of humanity found in the sprawling capital of the Indian state of West Bengal. Especially the children. But her presence at the mission had as much to do with escaping as it did pursuing. There was an emptiness inside that stalked her with as much ferocity as one of India’s famed Bengal tigers, yet with what seemed to her an intentional malevolence not naturally present in the big cats.
She’d have trouble with jet lag. She always did. Especially when flying west. It didn’t help that she lived in California where time had a leisurely twelve hours to dawdle before giving a repeat performance of sunrise. She’d left India early Saturday. Now, twenty-one hours and some eight thousand miles later, here it was still Saturday. Time was a fickle commodity. No matter. She was too weary to think about it. Sleep on the plane had been out of the question. Although she had plenty of money to travel first class, compliments of her father’s generous monthly guilt tithe, she shuddered at the thought. Although she appreciated the independence that came complements of her father’s wealth, the thought of spending all those hours with the snobs in the front of the plane reclining comfortably with blankets, pillows and room to spare while the masses in the back jockeyed for just an inch more in vain attempts to snatch a few minutes sleep made her stomach turn. From what she could see, the world was devoid of fairness. It all just didn’t make sense.
It was when, with a weary sigh, Katie rose from the sofa with the intention of heading to her bedroom that she caught sight of the letter. It wasn’t that she’d never seen his handwriting before. At least twice a year, at Christmas and on her birthday, a card would arrive bearing Jars’ distinctive handwriting. Occasionally, he’d even pen a brief note. At least her father was honest enough to dispense with the obligatory, but less than honest closing that most runaway fathers tossed in at the end: Love, Dad. As if their kids didn’t know the truth better than they did. He signed using the same name with which she addressed him on those infrequent occasions when their paths crossed: Jars. Even that was a concession she wasn’t sure he deserved. But she appreciated his faithfulness in providing for her well past the time she had chosen to escape from her mother’s shallow, pretentious world. Jars dispensed altogether with the pretense of Love. His cards were signed simply, Jars.
But it wasn’t her birthday and Christmas was three months away. Besides, this was no card. She could count the number of letters Jars had sent her on one hand. And she didn’t need all the fingers to even do that. Each of the three had been neatly printed on Synapzius letterhead by some laser printer she imagined loitering somewhere in the bowels of Jars’ technology kingdom. Certainly, Jars had never written her a handwritten letter. This was something utterly outside the realm of anything her father had ever done.
Maybe she was getting ahead of herself and Jars had only hand addressed the envelope to make up for a shortage of toner in the printer’s now empty belly.
Curiosity overcame fatigue and she reached for the letter, her fingers exploring its surface, slowly tracing the name reflected back to her through her father’s handwriting. Katie. That was her name. One given to her at birth by a father who was as much a stranger to her as those she had met in the streets of Kolkata as it is called by the natives of that place. A father she tried to keep buried in the farthest reaches of her mind only to find his ghost wandering about in the most unexpected places. Like the time she saw an impoverished Indian man holding his daughter’s hand in one of the countless open air bazaars as he bought her puri, a dough of course wheat flour and salt deep fried. Katie had found herself wishing she had memories of such special times with her own father, aching with their absence.
With hesitant eagerness, Katie opened the envelope. It was indeed a letter from Jars. The flowing blue script from the ivory pages looked up at her. It was dated only three days earlier.
I’ve no doubt that my writing to you like this will come as quite a surprise. But I both want and need to see you. It’s important. I’d rather share the why of it with you in person.
Although there is no reason why I should expect you to drop everything and come to New York, I hope you will. I would gladly fly out to California and save you the trouble but there are reasons why it would be better for you to come here.
P.S. Please come Katie…